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In the brash motor metropolis of Detroit, where all industry and seemingly all life revolves around auto-making, tradition is eyed with suspicion. "Last year's sales records don't sell 1957 models," they tell you at the Detroit Athletic Club, social headquarters of the auto world.
The same attitude pervades an equally successful Detroit industry—that of producing championship hockey teams. Perhaps that is why no other city can claim a more consistently winning hockey tradition (if you will excuse the expression) than the one assembled by that city's ever-changing Red Wings.
"Sure I'm proud of our record if I want to stop and look back at it. But that doesn't win tonight's game or this year's championship," says Jack Adams, the Wings' gruff, rotund general manager, who arrived in town during the big auto boom of the mid-'20s and began assembling hockey teams superior even to the models produced in Canada. Since the modern period of the National Hockey League began in 1926, none of Adams' rivals has won more championships (11), more Stanley Cups (7) or reached the cup playoffs more successive times (this being the 19th straight year).
In Adams' formula for success there are several other ingredients as important as his indifference toward tradition. One is enthusiasm. After 40 years in top professional hockey, 10 as a star player and the last 30 as Detroit's general manager, Adams still comes up on his toes every time the Wings play. His emotional reaction is such that for the past decade he has wisely refrained from viewing the final periods of any close games. At home games he'll retire to his office and watch the game on television; on the road or during crucial playoff spots, he'll hurry out of the stadium for nervous walks during which he badgers cab drivers for the latest score via radio. Like any old-timer, he'll reminisce if one insists, but he'd rather talk about the next game or next season.
At the age of 61 Adams tolerates no discussion of retirement: "What would I do if I got out of here? Why, after two weeks in Florida following the playoffs I'm a caged bear." His dictatorial grasp on the widespread farm chain and the "big team" which he so carefully nurtured is as strong as ever.
Along with Adams' enthusiasm goes a hardheaded approach to the business of making hockey pay. He does so by applying two fundamental tenets which he puts this way: "We sell season tickets on the basis that you'll be seeing the champs play" and "Hockey is the greatest spectator sport in the world—it's a man's game, but it's best for women because the basic rules are so simple that it's easy to understand." This kind of thinking has brought him a home town following as loyal and rabid as any in sports.
In adapting the thinking and methods of Detroit to the business of hockey, Adams has gambled continually with change-over models. Numerous times he has stripped down his classy championship teams with trades; then with a restyled team he has come right back the following season with a winning product. Success has almost silenced his ever-ready critics, but Adams acknowledges them with a stock rebuttal: "I make these deals only to strengthen this club and sentiment can't be involved. We were sentimental once and stood pat with our 1936-37 championship teams. The next year they collapsed, and we missed the playoffs—for the last time."
As usual, Adams has another contender on the market this season. His Wings, after taking and losing first place five times since October 11, finally assumed the lead on January 24 and have never since been headed by either Montreal's colorful Canadiens, the defending champions, or Boston's surprisingly hard-to-shake Bruins—the two most persistent challengers. Still the season has had novelty in as much as Detroit isn't defending a single title. Les Canadiens ended Detroit's seven-year reign as NHL champs and their two-time hold on the Stanley Cup by sweeping both honors last spring.
While continually redesigning his teams throughout his amazing run of titles, Adams has retained two players of prolific and apparently permanent scoring habits—Right Wing Gordie Howe and Left Wing Ted Lindsay. Each has already earned the ultimate hockey accolade of super star and, along with Captain Red Kelly, a comparable star on defense, and Marty Pavelich, a utility forward, Howe and Lindsay have spent 10 or more seasons in the red-and-white uniform. As Adams abbreviates it, they are the x in his x plus y equals z formula. This equation is translated into x as the untouchable nucleus of a winner, y as the hustling young players who surround him, and z, of course, as victory.